Friday, July 1, 2016

Rebels: "Out of Darkness" (Ep. 1.6)

"Stay calm; it's all part  of the plan."

I was going to say, at some point you have to start revealing the back stories of the supporting characters, then I realized they've revealed the major points already on the male characters. Sure, it's only episode six, but they gave us the stories for each of the male characters by the end of the second episode.

1. Ezra: The protagonist. Orphan boy with special powers. Fantasy cliche hero. Same model as Luke, actually. And Anakin. And Harry Potter. You get the picture, I'm sure.

2. Kanan Jarrus: Jedi on the run from the Empire and trying to do it harm at the same time. Sure, we don't know everything about him, but that's really enough to place him in the spectrum of things. He's the mentor character. Flawed, but the best available.

3. Zeb: The strong man. One of the last survivors of his race. The Chewbacca replacement, down to the part where his race was exploited and killed by the Empire.

We get all of that in the first two episodes with nothing about the women other than that Hera owns The Ghost and is the pilot, and Sabine wears some pieces of Mandalorian armor.

We get to find out a tiny bit about Sabine in this episode. She was a loyal Imperial in the Academy on Mandalore, blindingly following orders... until something bad happened. Now, she has trust issues and hates it that Kanan and Hera keep her in the dark about things. The whole episode is an exploration of trust between Hera and Sabine.

There is some fighting of monsters, too.

And the repeated referring to someone called Fulcrum.

But, overall, this episode was back down into the "kids' cartoon" realm for me as the fight with the monsters had a very video game feel with even the characters referring to the combat as "wave one" and "wave two" and so on. So I'm back to waiting to see where the show goes after the brief moment of hoping that it was rising about merely being a cartoon for kids.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Carmen (an opera review post)

Irene Roberts as Carmen
I bet you thought I abandoned the opera, didn't you? Didn't you?

Well, I didn't!

The opera happens in seasons, so there was a break in the performances. However, the odd thing is that this run of Carmen is part of the fall 2015 series. Performances start back up in the late spring/early summer, but the new season doesn't start until the fall of 2016. So, basically, the lack of opera posts has been due to a lack of opera. However, Carmen is the last one of the 2015 season that we're seeing. We bought the full 2016 season, though, so, once that starts in September, be ready for much more opera.

Carmen is one of the most famous and most performed operas in the world.
I'm sure you'll recognize some of the music:

Pieces of music from Carmen have been done in all kinds of places. I found a clip from Tom & Jerry, too, but I didn't care for that one in particular.

The pictures above are from the production that we saw, though they are not pictures I took. Cameras and such are not allowed during the performances.

This particular production strays somewhat from the traditional production style, or so they said. This is the only production of Carmen I've seen, so I have nothing to compare it to. The production was designed by Calixto Bieito, known as the Quentin Tarantino of opera. Yes, that means it was violent, but, honestly, I didn't find it any more so than, say, Lucia di Lammermoor. What I can say is that I really liked it. It was another performance where I occasionally lost the thread of the "dialogue" because I was too busy watching the show and would forget to pay attention to the "subtitle" screen. [They actually have a word for that screen at the opera, but I'm not remembering what it is, right now, and don't feel like looking it up.]

The stage was frequently filled with soldiers or gypsies or other characters, and they were always busy doing things that fit their characters rather than just standing around singing. Sometimes those things were humorous; sometimes they were on the horrible side. Either way, it made you want to keep your eyes on what was going on and, actually, torn between what you were paying attention to. It's the kind of performance that you could go see multiple times and catch something new every time. I like that.

The performance we saw featured Irene Roberts as Carmen and Brian Jagde as Don Jose. They did fine jobs. Actually, all of the performers did. There was no abandoning of the action to just stand in place and sing in this production. I like that.

There has been some debate as to what Carmen is about as in what it's about in relation to its metaphor. I'm unconvinced that the author of the original novella, Prosper Merimee, intended there to be a specific metaphor nor am I convinced that Georges Bizet, the composer of the opera, had one in mind. What Carmen is is a love story, a story of messed up love, and I think that's announced right at the beginning when Carmen sings a warning to any man whom she loves. She also says that she only loves the one who does not love her, but I think that was not quite the truth, unless Carmen is the representation of us all.

We learn at the beginning that there is a woman, Micaela, who is in love with Don Jose. Micaela is the woman that Don Jose wants, that kind of woman, but he can't quite see Micaela because he is blinded by the excitement and allure of Carmen, whom he thinks he loves. But Carmen does love him and, in an effort to have Don Jose prove his love to her, she asks him, a soldier, to desert his post and run away with her.

Don Jose balks and dithers, and the light of Carmen's love is instantly dimmed. If Don Jose doesn't love her enough to go with her, he doesn't really love her, and he certainly doesn't love her in that way that says, "You are the most important thing in the world to me." However, due to circumstances, Don Jose is forced to run away with Carmen and her gypsy friends. His love for her also vanishes due to the increasing resentment he feels toward her for putting him in the position that forced him to abandon his life.

That, of course, all changes when Carmen finds a new love...

Why does Carmen need to be about more than that? It's a fascinating love story all on its own without trying to make it mean something beyond the revelation of actual human nature. I might even find the novella it's based on and read it. As an opera, it was definitely time well spent.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Clone Wars -- "Monster" (Ep. 3.13)

-- Evil is not born; it is taught.

[Remember, you can sign up to join the Clone Wars Project at any time by clicking this link.]

If you haven't watched season three, episode 12, yet, you should go do that before reading this review. While I didn't spoil that episode in the review for it, I will be spoiling it in this review.

The fallout from Dooku's failed attempt to kill Ventress continues.

After her failed revenge assassination attempt against him in the previous episode, an attempt made to look like the Jedi had done it, Dooku, ironically, goes to the Nightsisters for aid in finding a replacement for Ventress. Of course, not knowing that Ventress is still alive, he doesn't know that Ventress has already returned to Mother Talzin and that they have already formed a plot against him. He is, in effect, playing into their hands.

Darth Maul's origins are never explained or elaborated on in the movies, but we find out here that Maul was one of the Nightbrothers of Dathomir. Talzin convinces Dooku that he needs one of Maul's kin, one of his brothers, as his new assassin. Mother Talzin will provide just the right one.

And, so, we are introduced to Savage Opress, a literal one-man (um, alien) killing machine. And, still, Mother Talzin is the more scary of the two.

Monday, June 27, 2016

How the System Failed My Son: Part Five -- The Horse He Rode In On

[Seriously, you need to go back and read the other parts of this before reading this one. There's no recap, just full speed ahead.]

This is the period full of second guessing for us. Middle school was... Well, it was problematic, to say the least. Homework was a nightmare. We quit being able to do anything as a family, because my son would spend all night, every night, doing homework. There was never time left for anything else.

Sure, some of it was his fault. He did have the ability to work faster but, from his perspective, why was he even having to do it at all? I can't even think of a good analogy for this, because, other than school, there is no part of life that requires this kind of thing. Which is not to say that there aren't some jobs which require you to take your work home with you, but those are by choice. I mean, you choose those jobs, and you can un-choose them if you want to. School isn't like that.

Look, it was kind of like this:
It was like having to drag your horse to water because it refused to walk there. Once there, you had to force its head under to make it drink but, instead of drinking the water, it would just hold its breath until it couldn't, at which point it would breathe in a bunch of the water, so you had to pump its chest and do CPR just before holding its head under again.
Oh, wait, this sounds like some torture technique...
And that's what it was, familial torture.

It was at this point we were just trying to power through middle school with the hopes that high school would be better.

Let me back up a moment:
For one thing, middle school is miserable for virtually everyone. I hated middle school. I mean, I loathed middle school. Not that my parents ever knew. My mom, despite how many times I've told her to the contrary, is still under the illusion that I loved middle school. But high school, which I had dreaded, once I acclimated to it, was pretty great. Okay, well, it was pretty okay. I mostly enjoyed high school.

We had had issues with his older brother in middle school; not the same kinds of issues, but we'd still had issues. When he got to high school, everything had turned around for him, and he loved high school

This may have been part of the issue that was created...

For years, Phillip had wanted to go to Tech High, a local area high school that specialized in math and, you guessed it, technology. Phillip really likes to build things, and they have a robotics program. It seemed like a good fit. He even applied there and was accepted. (You have to be ahead of the curve to get into that school, and Phillip was certainly that, being two years ahead in math when he got out of middle school (if you count the year he skipped, he was actually three years ahead).)

But, see, math... We had been struggling with him over his math homework constantly, and we couldn't see how it would be better if he went to a high school centered around math.

The thing that had turned everything around for his brother had been drama and choir, and, as I mentioned last post, Phillip developed a real love for acting and, specifically, musical theater during middle school, and he had decided that he wanted to follow in his brother's footsteps and go into the same program his brother had been through.

Trying to find the thing that Phillip would enjoy and give him some joy in school again, we let him make the decision. There was some ambivalence on his part because he had wanted to go to Tech High for years but, when he went to shadow there (if you don't know what that is, ask in the comments), it was a horrible experience where he was pretty much just left to sit alone for hours while the students worked on some project on their computers. He did get accepted there, but he chose the arts program and to go do drama. His shadowing experience there had been very positive considering everyone knew his brother and welcomed him right away.

He's really good, by the way. A natural actor and able to do character parts really well. He also has a great ear and voice. Basically, he's a natural.

So we made it through middle school, got him into the high school he wanted to go to, and we held our breaths. Just like that horse with its head being held under the surface of the lake.

Friday, June 24, 2016

A Fire Upon the Deep (a book review post)

Sometimes, there are those books that you really just expect to love. Or, at least, to like a lot. They have all the things that you generally like in books. Or, at least, for that type of book. By all accounts, I should have really liked A Fire Upon the Deep, but it never really took off for me. You could say that it got stuck in the slow zone, especially considering it took me something like six months to read.

It's not that I hated the book, but it never achieved likability. It was like one of those foods you're willing to eat to be polite but, really, you'd just rather not. Like asparagus.

The first issue was the characters. Not that they were the first issue, exactly, but you can forgive a lot of stupid stuff in books (or on TV or whatever) if the characters are good. Good meaning that you can relate to them in some way and empathize with their situation. Or negatively empathize (as with an antagonist). But this book had zero characters with whom I could connect, so I never came to care about what happened to any of them. The only character I came even close to liking got killed not long after he was introduced.

And it was difficult to actually dislike the "villain," since it amounted to no more than a program.

So not only did I not have anyone to root for, I also didn't have anyone to root against, so there was nothing really compelling within the story to keep me wanting to read it.

Some would say the book is about the world building, which is extensive, but I didn't find that appealing, either. There were too many things that I found, well, just dumb. Like the galaxy having "zones." Not zones like you'd have on a map, but zones like the layers of a rain forest: floor, understory, canopy, emergent. The problem with these zones in the book (unthinking depths, slow, beyond, transcend) is that they were represented somewhat like evolutionary stages. Earth is in the slow zone but, once man had evolved enough, he moved up to the beyond, except it's the technology that's evolving, not man.

The problem with all of that is that the technology cannot actually physically exist (work) in an incorrect zone. Imagine it like this: You grow up in a kind of rundown neighborhood and all you have is a bike, but you work hard and save and, eventually, move to a better neighborhood and buy a house and a car. Let's say that one day you want to visit your old home, so you decide to drive by and see it just for the sake of nostalgia. The only problem is that when your car enters the old neighborhood, it quits working. It just shuts off. You could still put it in neutral and push it around the streets, but that would take a very long time and be a lot of hard work. Or you could build a bicycle mechanism into your car that you could switch to when your engine cut off.

I don't find this kind of thing fascinating to ponder, not in any way. It's a ridiculous approach to physics and the universe.

And not to spoil the ending, and I'm not actually going to tell you what happens, but you shouldn't read the next bit if you want to remain in the unawares:

It has a totally deus ex machina ending. That's not a problem in-and-of itself, because you know from the beginning, basically, that that's what they're looking for. However, when it happens, it goes all in and offers absolutely no explanation. The ending just happens. They show up and everything that is going to happen happens without them doing anything other than being there. And that, also, doesn't quite make sense, but there is no explanation offered. It was unsatisfying, to say the least.

And that was after the six-month slog to read it.

Probably, I will go ahead and read the next one, A Deepness in the Sky, but that's because I already have it. If I didn't, I wouldn't bother. And when I say I'm going to read it, I only mean that I'm going to start it. If it's not better, I'm not going to force myself through it like I did this one.

Note: This is one of the author's I decided to explore several years ago when I was doing the fiction to science thing for a-to-z. Vernor Vinge came up with the idea of the technological singularity, and these books deal with that. So, yeah, sometimes I read a book I'm not enjoying so that I can understand the impact of it (like Snow Crash, which was horrible, but, after reading it, I understand why people became so enthralled with it (hint: It wasn't the writing)). Trust me, it's not some weird sadomasochistic reading urge. I just want to understand the cultural significance of the thing.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

I Bought New Speakers

Maybe I should talk, first, about the new desk. No, wait, let's talk about my old monitor. Look, it's all related, so you have to understand the pieces.

Way back whenever, at some point when I was replacing a computer, I got a monitor (a nice monitor) that came with speakers that attached to it. The only problem was that once the speakers were attached, they couldn't be taken back off. It was a permanent attachment. It was nice, though, because I didn't have speakers in the way or being knocked over or any of a number of other issues that come with having speakers sitting around your computer.

It was nice until the monitor quit working. Which was after some years, but it was the first monitor I had that just quit working. I think. I can't remember any others, at any rate. But, see, here was the problem, my speakers weren't removable. I ended up with a new monitor that sat in front of the dead monitor so that I could continue to use those speakers -- they were still perfectly good -- which was still actually better than loose speakers banging around on the desk.

But, recently, we built a new desk system, which I have been intending to post about and of which I have pictures. Or did have pictures of. Might have pictures of, but I'll get to that. Anyway...
When we moved to the new desk, my wife didn't want the two monitors cluttering our space, so I ditched the one that didn't work even though it had my speakers. And, yes, I did try to get them off, but I would have had to break them to do it.

With the new desk system, my wife and I sit (or stand, because the desktop is standing height (we have bar stools for sitting)) next to each other. It's cozy. Which is beside the point of what I'm talking about although not beside the point of the desk. The point is that, for a while, we tried to share speakers. Mostly, I don't need or use speakers. Meaning, in general, I keep the sound on my computer turned off. However, occasionally, I want to watch a movie trailer or listen to music when I'm doing something like cooking. On the other hand, my wife keeps her sound on and uses it a lot. It began to be a hassle to switch the speakers to my computer and back every time I wanted to use the speakers for five or ten minutes.

I went out and bought some speakers. No, nothing expensive. I think they were $15. Maybe it was $10, but it wasn't more than $15. That was just a few weeks ago.

Now, I'm sure, at this point, you're wondering why you should care about my speaker purchase. Honestly, you shouldn't. This isn't about the speakers, though. They're just an example of my point, which isn't really anything you need to care about, either. It's just one of those, "Well, of course!" things that people find amusing, so, well, be amused. Or something.
When I get to the point.

At the old desk, my computer was hard-wired into our router, but the new desk is too far away for that (especially since we were actively trying to cut down on cords), so I had to switch to wi-fi. It could be completely unrelated, but I'm going to guess that it's not. After we moved everything to the new system, my computer started having "issues" with staying connected to the Internet. Then, right after buying the speakers, which I'm sure was just coincidental, my hard drive came down with a squeak. My wife said it sounded like a frog.

Two things about this:
1. My previous computer did basically the same thing before it died, but the squeak lasted more than a year before the hard drive finally actually died. So, you know, I thought I had more time.
2. When we moved the computers, I misplaced my flash drive.

So, yeah, I knew I needed to get everything backed up, and I started looking around for my drive, even was considering just going out and getting a new one, but it's summer, and it's busy, and, yes, I thought I had more time.

But I didn't. The hard drive crashed and burned (okay, it didn't literally burn, although we did have a computer once that did actually melt down the hard drive and emit smoke). Hard. So hard that my computer couldn't even read that hard drive existed. And, well, I may have lost everything on it; I'm still waiting to find out about that.

Mostly, my documents are fine. I have those backed up through March or April and everything is recoverable through other means or reproduce-able (like my current novel which I just started typing up in June; so, though I may have lost all the typing, I still have my handwritten copy). Except for some notes about project ideas, but, well, I guess those are just notes.

The hard thing is my pictures. All of my pictures were solely stored on that computer, and I may have lost all of them. I'm still adjusting to that thought. It's painful to think and knots up my stomach. So far, the news is not good, but I haven't had definitive word, yet, so there is still hope.

Does anyone need a cheap set of speakers?